The Flame Narrative

Samain                                                                                Stent Moon

20181211_115152Bought this ceramic container a few years back, probably during a Woolly Mammoth retreat at Valhelga, the Helgeson’s family retreat on a lake close to Collegeville, home of St. John’s Monastery. It reminds me of the modest clay cylinders that held the Dead Sea Scrolls and I loved the brown to black glaze, the whoosh.

On the St. John’s campus, Richard Bresnahan fires up the huge Johanna Kiln every fall with the help of students and volunteers who come to feed it wood 24 hours a day while the firing continues. Richard, who hosted us Mammoths several times at his pottery studio on the north side of the large St. John’s campus, introduced me to the idea of flame narrative.

In a kiln like the Johanna, wood-fired, the flame and the heat travel from the firebox at the front up through the dragon like body, hence the name dragon kilns. As the heat and the flame move through and up the various chambers, they pass over the bisque shapes of hundreds of tea-pots, tea cups, storage containers, plates, anything that can be made from clay.

Burned into this container is the narrative of the flame’s passage on that fall day when it sat inside the Johanna Kiln and the dragon’s breath made its way past the wooden platform on which it sat. Literally baked in to the surface of this beautiful pot.

Johanna Kiln Steve Basile photo

Johanna Kiln Steve Basile photo

It’s my choice of a final resting place. I hope whoever cares for my cremains will put them in it and either keep them somewhere, bury them, put them in a mausoleum, or seal the top with wax and cast the whole into the nearest moving water like the Tibetan monks do to their mandalas. I’m fine with any decision.

Not sure why but over the last couple of days the flame narrative idea and my death have been on my mind. They merged. After our deaths, the memory of our life, whatever it is, is like the flame narrative on the ceramics that come out of the Johanna Kiln. The fiery tongue of the dragon breathes life into us, gives us motive energy for our brief sojourn as organized, sentient star dust. As that fire moves through the gigantic kiln of our years, it burns the story of our journey into the universe, never to be gone, never to be repeated. Then, as Beowulf says, “Heaven swallows the smoke.”



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